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The C Suite

Unlocking the power of Big Data

February 7, 2017

The effective deployment of big data analytics has the potential to redefine how businesses target and interact with consumers and key stakeholders.

21st century consumers are very well connected and there’s a significant opportunity to derive actionable insights from the data sets being generated; their movement patterns identified via cellular mobile data, purchases and interests captured online, and travel habits recorded via electronic ticketing and CCTV. However, for CIOs, making sense of this data relies upon the ability to gather, analyse and contextualise relevant information, often through the formation of data sharing partnerships. If utilised correctly, big data can significantly enhance business’ ability to make intelligent strategic decisions, whether it be deciding where to locate a new store, how to configure a new housing development or mapping future infrastructure and service requirements.

The first consideration that CIOs must make when devising a data analytics strategy is deciding upon the nature and scale of data they wish to utilise. In certain circumstances, the collection of very specific local data sets can prove most useful – for example, in the behavioural analysis of visitors to a sporting, music or exhibition venue. Here, movement tracking is enabled through the download of the official mobile app, capturing attendee location at set frequencies, which is a proxy for behaviour. Profiling different types of individual, how often they visit retail facilities, which acts or speakers they see and patterns in which they travel can be used to optimise staffing levels or introduce crowd control measures to improve the visitor experience. Post-event analysis can also prove invaluable in identifying the most commercially ‘valuable’ performers, allowing future line ups, site design and fee structures to be amended accordingly.

For retailers, the question of data collection may be somewhat more complex. Although loyalty cards and online sales data has long been gathered to analyse the behaviour of existing customers, shaping product offerings and allowing for the personalisation of marketing campaigns, the exploration of target consumers’ behaviour could offer the greatest commercial benefit. Ascertaining areas of high footfall for consumers within a predefined demographic might provide the insight required to secure the perfect location for a pop-up store or advertising designed to redirect custom from competitors. When analysing the best location for new retail outlets, the gathering of national-scale data, including road and public transport usage, together with demographic data, is likely to identify the most viable sites.

While the analysis of one data set can prove illuminating, it is often when multiple sources of targeted information are combined that truly ground-breaking insight is achieved, particularly when one of the data sets is location based. Increasingly, businesses are forging cross-sector relationships to secure a mutually-beneficial partnership that allows them to gather quality data. For example, power distribution companies are beginning to examine the infrastructure that will be required to support the UK’s burgeoning electric vehicle market. By analysing cellular data and fusing that with data from from telematic data, forward-thinking decision makers will be able to map where charging points and distribution network capacity are most needed and how this requirement will evolve as vehicle numbers grow at different rates across the country.

As well as looking to other industries, private – public sector partnerships are also on the rise as Local Authorities buy into the ‘smart cities’ agenda, keen to utilise data in a way that enhances residents’ quality of life. For private sector firms, collaboration with councils to install sensors, tap into public transport networks and provide an analysis of traffic data can have a huge number of innovative practical applications. For example, cities that are committed to meeting nitrous oxide targets may wish to use lamp post-mounted sensors to monitor pollution levels, introducing inner city congestion charges for diesel vehicles when they break a pre-defined limit.

Similarly, housebuilders could move to gather data which justifies the need for certain infrastructure requirements (new roads, public spaces etc.) to support a housing development. This data also empowers council planners to make more informed decisions, and could form the basis for a government funding request to aid timely site development. Working with the planning department to provide an overview of footfall, projected neighbourhood demographics and travel needs allows for sites to be configured in a way that best meets the needs of the local population.

The effective deployment of big data analytics has the potential to redefine how businesses target and interact with consumers and key stakeholders. Early adopters can access insights that allow them to identify commercial opportunities and make smarter strategic decisions. However, doing so relies upon gaining access to relevant data sets, often through the formation of strategic partnerships. CIOs must act now to cement agreements that secure this access and facilitate profitable, collaborative relationships that secure competitive advantage. Careful analysis and the attraction of skilled data analysts either in house, or via a third party will reap significant benefits.

Ben Calnan leads the Smart Cities sector at people movement consultancy Movement Strategies.

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